Tunnels Under Schools: NGO Human Rights’ Monitoring for Palestinian Children Ends When Israel is Not to Blame
On November 29, 2022, UNRWA issued a statement, according to which, it “recently identified a man-made cavity underneath the grounds of an UNRWA school in Gaza.” UNRWA strongly condemned the construction under its facility, calling it “a serious violation of the Agency’s neutrality and a breach of international law,” which “exposes children and Agency staff to significant security and safety risks” and “jeopardize[s] the ability of UNRWA to provide support and protection to the 1.4 million Palestine refugees in need in Gaza.”
Indeed, the all-too-common practice of Gaza-based terror groups building tunnels under civilian areas is a grave violation of the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza, putting them at risk of being harmed in an Israeli strike on a military target. The violation is ever graver when schools and children are being exploited.
As such, one would think that Palestinian NGOs – that are proud to claim the human rights mantle when accusing Israel of violating the rights of children – would unequivocally condemn the groups responsible for the tunnels. Unfortunately, these Palestinian NGOs are silent. An examination of Al-Haq’s, PCHR’s, DCI-P’s and Al-Mezan’s statements shows that they have failed to condemn the November incident, as well as similar ones concerning Palestinian terror groups’ misuse of UNRWA facilities in such a way that endangers both children and staff.
NGO Monitor has documented at least 7 additional incidents from the past 10 years, in which terror tunnels and weapon caches were discovered under UNRWA schools or in their close vicinity. In each, they were completely ignored by the aforementioned NGOs. The following are some examples:
- On June 4, 2021, UNRWA stated that an investigation, “revealed what appears to be a cavity and a possible tunnel” in the grounds of the UNRWA Zaitoun Preparatory Boys’ School “A” and Elementary Boys’ School “A”. UNRWA condemned “the existence and potential use by Palestinian armed groups of such tunnels underneath its schools in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff be placed at risk in such a way.”
- On June 9, 2017, UNRWA issued a statement, noting that “On 1 June UNRWA discovered part of a tunnel that passes under two adjacent Agency schools in Maghazi camp…UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way…UNRWA has robustly intervened and protested to Hamas in Gaza…We will not allow any students or staff into the building until the issue is resolved.”
- On July 29, 2014, UNRWA stated, “A cache of rockets was found earlier today at an UNRWA school in central Gaza…We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school…”
An additional four incidents in 2020, 2017 and 2014 have been documented.
This is yet another example of Palestinian NGOs’ double-standards and exploitation of human rights rhetoric for political aims. Palestinian children are vulnerable human beings who must be protected, not a tool for cynically bashing Israel in international fora.